How to Find the Right Keyword for your Content
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is not as complicated as some people would have you believe. You don’t need to hire an expensive consultant, or invest in high tech software. Using relatively basic steps combined with a bit of hard work you can accomplish a considerable amount.
Before building your search engine optimised content strategy, you need to understand how and why Google operates.
A brief history of Google
Larry Page and Serge Brin met in 1995 at Stanford University. A year later they had built their first search engine called “BackRub”. It was based on an idea born from a simple observation, Serge and Larry noticed that the most trustworthy academic publications were often cited by many subsequent publications, while the least trustworthy would be cited much less (if at all).
Applying this idea to the internet, BackRub (and now Google) ranked pages based on the number of times different pages were ‘cited’ in the form of links from other sites. Accurate and trusted sites had more backlinks, while dubious sites were rarely linked to. BackRub was a success and two years later in 1998 Google Inc. was officially born.
Not all links are equal
Today the basic premise still applies, but Google’s algorithms have grown exponentially more complex and nuanced. Backlinks remain an important indicator of a websites quality, but links from reputable trusted sites are given more weight than those from dubious websites. So it is far more valuable to have a backlink from the New York Times, than from your local newspaper.
This is also why so called ‘blackhat SEO’ doesn’t work. Some blackhat SEO consultants might try to sell you on ‘get-ranked-quick schemes’ using expensive software and paid backlinks. In the past some of the techniques worked, but Google is now sophisticated enough to see through these tricks.
From its humble roots Google has grown into an internet superpower, but the company’s mission and basic premise remain unchanged: “Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google’s exact algorithm is (understandably) a closely guarded secret but we do know that the two main factors are:
- Search Relevance and;
- Authority (i.e. the reputability of the website)
Since “Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” producing clear, accurate, and accessible information is vital to attain a high (search engine results page (SERP) rank. Keyword spamming, content farming, and other techniques designed to ‘trick’ Google simply don’t work.
How to rank on Google
What does work is a comprehensive content strategy that starts with choosing the right keywords.
Once you’re keywords are chosen you have to implement them properly and ensure the rest of your content is search engine optimised, accurate, relevant, unique, and “accessible and useful.”
What are Keywords?
Keywords tell Google (and visitors) what each page is about. They are instrumental to planning and creating search engine optimised content.
Despite the importance of keywords, you need to remember that getting one keyword to rank on a page on its own is very difficult. You need a large amount of content consisting of many pages of different but related keywords.
If you are building a website, keyword research should inform your domain name choice. If you already have a site, then you should conduct keyword research before creating any content.
Long tail keywords
If you have done some research into SEO then you may already be familiar with the term “long tail keyword.” For those of you who are uninitiated, a long tail keyword is a highly specific keyword. Take a moment to look at the distribution graph below (borrowed from WordStream.com), the most popular keywords are on the far left. These keywords have the most searches, but also the most competition. After the initial spike the number of keywords begins to trail off in a long tail – the number of searches decreases, but so too does the amount of competition.
“Content marketing” is a keyword, “content marketing for SMEs” is a long tail keyword. It is more specific, has less searches, but also less competition.
What is the value of a long tail keyword?
Long tail keywords allow your website to rank higher for specific terms all relating to the central theme of your business. The more keywords that your business ranks for, the more reputable it will be – further boosting your overall SEO. Eventually as your site grows larger and you accumulate more keywords your overall rank will grow and you will be able to compete for even the most difficult keywords.
Natural long tail keyword growth
With the continual spread of technology, the increasing number of consumers, and growth of information the number of annual searches for long tail keywords naturally grows. A long tail keyword with 1, 000 annual searches today, might have 3, 000 annual searches next year.
This doesn’t mean that you should ignore shorter keywords. If you own a landscaping business, your website should of course have at least one central page dedicated to the keyword “landscaping”, just don’t expect to find yourself at the top of Google overnight. Instead, build out content consisting of related keywords that links back to this central page (hyperlinks should be attached to relevant terms, so in this example, the ideal hyperlinked text would be Landscaping).
Long tail keywords also allow you to target specific consumers by focusing in on niche searches. More importantly they also let you target specific locations. Mobile marketing is more important than ever before, and long tail keywords are hugely important. If you own a landscaping company you may not be able to get to the top of Google by focusing on the keyword “landscaping” but you can by using the term “landscaping in [your local area]”. Such searches are increasingly important.
Long tail keywords are vital to Google’s latest focus: “micro-moments”. Based on consumer behaviour, Google has begun to focus on the importance of micro-moments.
Google defines micro-moments as, “intent-driven moments of decision-making and preference-shaping that occur throughout the entire consumer journey.” There are four types of micro-moments:
- I-want-to-know. The consumer is curious, and looking for general information. They are “exploring or researching” they want “useful information and maybe even information” not sales copy.
- I-want-to-go. The consumer is looking for a local business. Searches for locations “near me” have doubled over the past 12 months, and “82% of smartphone users say they use search to find a local business.”
- I-want-to-do. These moments can arise before, during or after a purchase. In “I-want-to-do” micro-moments the consumer wants to get something done, or try something new.
- I-want-to-buy. The consumer is ready to purchase, but they still might need help deciding if, when, what, or how to buy.
Your content, and your keywords need to target these moments.
According to Google’s research:
- “91% of smartphone users look up information on their smartphones while in the middle of a task.
- 82% consult their phones while they’re standing in a store deciding which product to buy.
- 1 in 10 of those end up buying a different product than they had planned.
- 69% agree that the quality, timing, or relevance of a company’s message influences their perception of a brand.”
Finding your keywords
To determine your keywords start by brainstorming. It shouldn’t be difficult. If you own a landscaping business then start with the keyword “landscaping.”
There are a number of free tools online. I personally use SEMRush which offers some free features as well as monthly plans for more in depth research. If you plan on developing your own content strategy I recommend investing in a subscription to SEMRush, but there are alternatives:
- SEMRush provides you with 10 results for each keyword for free. For thousands more results you will have to buy a subscription. SEMRush will provide you will a “Keyword Overview” which shows you both exact phrase matches, and related keywords as well as a wealth of information for each including: search volume, keyword difficulty, CPC (cost per click), competitive density, number of organic results, and Google’s cache of search results. SEMRush also provides valuable insight into your competition, and a range of other SEO services for improving your content, and your digital properties overall.
- KWFinder is similar to SEMRush in that you will get a number of features for free, but will have to pay for a subscription for full results. I prefer SEMRush, but KWFinder is also quite comprehensive, it is also less expensive if you do decide to pay for a subscription. KWFinder lacks the additional SEO and competition research features of SEMRush.
- Google AdWords offers a keyword planning for free, but you will have to first make an account (including with payment information), create a campaign, and then pause the campaign to avoid paying. Once you have done this you can enter your chosen keywords for volume, difficulty, device and other trends. Unlike SEMRush and KWFinder, Google AdWords does not automatically generate related keywords. You will have to come up with them yourself or find them through a keyword generator, download the list and then upload it into your Google AdWords keyword planner. Also remember that Google’s keyword finder is designed for paid ads – but it is also useful for insights into organic traffic.
Completely free tools
- Google Trends is another great tool offered by Google, with no signup necessary. Unfortunately it is really only suitable for cursory insights into keyword search volume over time. Paid sites like SEMRush and KWFinder include this data, and it is also available through Google AdWords.
- Keyword Shitter creative but crude name aside, this site helps you brainstorm keywords. As a brainstorming tool it is helpful but you will have to sieve through the… keywords yourself and then punch them into Google AdWords, Google Trends, and other programs to get a full picture.
- Uber Suggest is similar to Keyword Shitter, but with a more attractive interface and less memorable name.
- Small SEO Tools is my preferred free SEO site. It offer a number of services. While not as accurate, in depth as paid services services, it is a good start.
- Other Free tools are also available online for finding keywords. A quick Google search should bring up plenty.
How to find keywords for your content
I will highlight two methods of finding your keywords. The first uses ‘all in one’ tools like SEMRush and KWFinder, which you can use for free (but only for a limited amount of searches). The Second uses only free tools, the third is a more general outline.
- Using SEMRush or KWFinder, enter your starting keyword. If you are a landscaping company start with the word “Landscaping” both programs will then give you lists of thousands of long tail keywords.
- Sort the data by difficulty. The lower the score the easier it is to rank for that particular keyword. You will also have to balance this against search volume and other factors when choosing your keywords. Curate a list of keywords that strike the right balance between volume and difficulty.
To interpret the keyword difficulty score, I use the scale suggested by KWFinder. It is a useful benchmark for all keyword difficulty scales that runs from 0-100 (like that of SEMRush).
|0 -9||Go for it|
|30 – 39||Not hard|
|75 – 89||Super hard|
|90 -100||Don’t do it|
Don’t be too worried about the keyword difficulty. A small website with 5 pages might struggle to rank for anything above a difficulty ranking of 40, but if you are committed to building your digital content then your site will strengthen over time making it easier to rank for the more difficult keywords down the line. Remember that you cannot optimise a single page into the top of Google search results, you have to look at all of your web content together and build a solid foundation of keywords. That is why we are starting with more targeted long tail keywords.
- Compare the keyword trends (just click the icon under the trends column for the relevant keywords), pick the keyword with the most volume and most positive trend, with the lowest keyword difficulty.
- Analyse the competition. SEMRush allows you to view the SERP (search engine results page) use SEMRush’s domain search function for an insight into the competition. If you see pages from very reputable sites at the top of the SERP then you may not be able to compete. Choose the keyword that presents the easiest route to the top of the SERP.
Method Two (Using Google AdWords)
- Enter your website, industry, product or service, product or service category, and target audience into Google AdWords Keyword Planner.
- Download the results (it is easier to organise and compare results offline)
- Sort the results based on volume and competition (AdWords separates them into Low, Medium, or High). The difficulty rating provides helpful insights but should not be taken as gospel. Use your judgement to curate a list of keywords that you believe strike the right balance between volume and difficulty.
- Check out the competition. To evaluate the competition you need to use a mix of common sense and some more free SEO tools. Search the keyword and then punch the URL into the tools available on your free SEO website of choice.
- Pick the keywords that has a SERP (search engine results page) with the least competition. Your new company site probably won’t be able to knock Forbes or Investopedia from the top search results, but you can beat smaller sites. You can also simply punch your keyword into Google yourself and analyse the competition (but remember Google results change based on you own search history).
Regardless of the services you use, to check for keywords the same process applies:
- Develop a list of keywords relating to a specific topic, or to your business in general.
- Compare the search volume, trend, and difficulty of different keywords.
- Analyse the SERP (search engine results page). Analyse the websites strength and the relevance of the pages.
- Choose the most relevant keywords, with the lowest keyword difficulty, most positive trends, highest volume, and least competitive search engine results page.
When it comes to evaluating search volume, remember that SEMRush, KWFinder, Google Trends, and Google AdWords all calculate volume based on the exact keywords. This is not reflective of how Google searches actually work. Instead, in practice, Google searches also return results for synonyms of the search phrase. Consequently if a particular keyword has a search volume of 1,000 then remember that it may also be returned for a number of other related phrases.
Advantages of long tail keywords
We’ve already touched on a few of the reasons why long tail keywords are so useful, but to reiterate and expand on the subject, here are the advances of long tail keywords.
- Increase conversion. Someone searching for “best landscaper in London” is more likely to click on a link to your landscaping business than someone just searching “landscaping”. The former almost certainly is looking to hire someone in London, the latter could be interested in any number of things. Think also of someone searching “lawyer” versus “divorce lawyer” versus “best divorce lawyer in London.”
- Improve mobile results. Long tail keywords, like in the example above, are more often location specific, which is a key component of mobile marketing. When someone is looking to eat at a restaurant they are more likely to search “best pizza in London” than “pizza”
- Voice optimised. More and more smartphone searches are taking place through voice commands. We use different syntax when we write compared to when we speak. Long tail key words are better able to match spoken searches like “Where is the best pizza in London?” Voice searches are also automatically localised by search engines (makes sense right, if you say “Chinese restaurant” into your phone it isn’t much help if all the results are located in China!)
- They build site authority. When you start regularly ranking highly for long tail keywords you build authority for your site which grows over time and results in a better ability to rank for more competitive keywords.
- They are less competitive. As mentioned earlier, because there is competition a smaller, newer or less trusted website can rank higher for long tail keywords.
- They target micro-moments. Long tail keywords are better for targeting ‘micro-moments’ identified by Google as a key consumer behaviour.
Keyword Optimised Content
Choosing your keyword is important, implementing it correctly is even more important, but the most important factor is quality. Some SEO consultants like to say that keyword optimising your content is not important. They are right to some degree, keyword optimising your content is not as important as it once was. Ten years ago (from an SEO perspective) it was good enough to cram your content full of keywords. Google caught onto that and punishes those who try to use keyword spamming. Google still values keywords placed in certain important sections like H1 headings, page title, and other areas (as you’ll see below). Now even that is not the ‘sure thing’ that it once was – but it is still beneficial.
When you optimise high quality on-page content using the basic guidelines below in conjunction with other SEO best practices, and a robust website full of quality content then you will rise up the Google SERP. Remember you cannot look at one keyword or piece of content in isolation, think of your SEO content as an ecosystem. Each individual aspect has to be individually healthy in order to contribute to the overall health of the system, and damage to one component impacts even once-healthy separate components.
On page SEO
The following are some general on page SEO best practices. I will look to revisit this topic in more detail in the future, and these are guidelines rather than rules written in stone.
General SEO writing tips:
- High quality content: No spelling or grammatical mistakes (this is partially how Google weeds out spammy content).
- Readability: overly verbose, technical or academic writing can also harm SEO. Remember making content “useful and accessible” is part of Google’s mission statement. Excessively use of jargon is as unreadable (and there for neither useful nor accessible) as writing filled with spelling mistakes.
- Don’t ever copy the same content between different pages (except in very small amounts when it is relevant and necessary to do so).
- Include location indicators in the copy to optimise for specific locations
- In general the longer the content the better (as long as it is relevant – don’t compromise quality by stretching a topic to more words than it justifies).
Implementing keywords SEO checklist
Follow this short checklist to improve on page SEO.
- Don’t use the same keyword on multiple pages
- Keyword in URL
- Keyword is in the Page title (ie within the <title> </title> tags)
- Keyword included in H1 heading
- Page title and H1 heading are different
- Only one H1 heading
- Keyword appears in the first sentence after the title tag
- Keyword is in the first paragraph
- Keyword in meta description
- Keyword used in image alt-tags and description
- Keyword can appear in H2, H3, H4 etc headings
Keyword density or frequency
Keyword density or frequency is another heavily debated topic, some people try to assign a specific number of times that you should use your keyword, others assign a specific density (times used/total words). Some people say you should use a keyword 10 times, other say that the keyword density should be between 0.5% and 2.5%.
Writing your content
Your content should be based around a long tail keyword, but most importantly it should be relevant to your business, and “accessible and useful.” Don’t force irrelevant keywords.
Most importantly, you need to consider other factors when creating your content – search engine optimisation is not everything.